What if, after wrecking your car, the insurance company set you up with a loaner of the same make and model that just happened to be employed in a recent crime spree?
What if, instead of an automobile, it was your temporary mechanical body that invoked fear and suspicion in those around you?
Writer-artist Simon Roy explores this idea in "Jan's Atomic Heart," an original graphic novel shipping in June from Canadian publisher New Reliable Press. By turns whimsical and explosive, "Jan" blends modern geopolitics with sci-fi mystery through the lens of buddy-film adventure. CBR News caught up with Roy to discuss the comic.
The story of "Jan's Atomic Heart" is set in Frankfurt, Germany, in a far future in which the city has been devastated by a war with Lunar separatists. "Jan is a computer analyst who, after a brutal car wreck, is living through a tele-operated body while his real body is in the hospital," Roy told CBR. "Because he has such a terrible insurance policy, though, the body he's living through is a terrible old lunar-made model. And, oddly enough, lunar terrorists are using that same model of body in bombings against UN targets on Luna. He turns to his friend Anders for help, and the two of them set out to find out just what, exactly is going on."
The two men set off to discover the provenance of Jan's new body, and whether he unwittingly poses a threat to the peace. "From there, all types of explosions and adventures ensue. It's full of a lot of classic sci-fi ideas--unified world/regional governments, an off-world war--but some more cyberpunk elements are thrown in there, too," Roy said.
Though the world of "Jan's Atomic Heart" gives a sense of some depth, Roy insists that he has not spent a lot of time building up a documented history for this future earth. "The back-story is pretty minimal in terms of real, concrete setting," he said. "I wanted the world to feel realistic, but not over-explained; to have a world where all the characters knew the history, but didn't break up the flow of the story telling each other about it (something which, nevertheless, does happen once in there). So the world is pretty undefined, but I do have a good idea of it. It all came together pretty naturally - growing up on sci-fi means I have a lot of mental detritus to rummage around in for this type of stuff."
In fact, Roy didn't start to build the story until after he'd begun his illustrations. "I originally began drawing the first scene as an exercise in environment building, and it wasn't until I was well into the second scene that I had a story in mind," Roy said. "While I had a definite idea of where I wanted the story to go, I didn't write a script to work from--I wanted to just start and see how it came out. Once I got to a scene, I'd write out the dialogue, break it up into however many pages it would fit comfortably into, then just start drawing. I did up thumbs for more complex scenes, but most of the time I made it up as I went along."
From here, proximity helped Roy set up with New Reliable Press. "When I was about halfway through making 'Jan's Atomic Heart,' I realized I probably would have enough of a comic to get it published somewhere. I started poking around for a possible publisher, and when I found Ed [Brisson, New Reliable Publisher] and saw he was just across the strait in Vancouver, I sent him some pages and a synopsis," the artist explained. "It turned out I'd already sent him some pages of the comic as sample work when I applied to an ad he'd posted, so he was already familiar with it. From there, it was just a matter of getting it all finished. Ed's a really awesome guy--he's been incredibly helpful and flexible with everything over the whole process."
Simon Roy began reading comics at a young age, picking up Archie books from garage sales and checking out volumes of "Asterix" and "Tintin" from the library. "When I was about nine, the general store where we lived started carrying a few Marvel comics, and I started reading all my father's old issues of 'Conan' and 'Carson of Venus' and whatnot. I've been more or less hooked since then," he recalled. "I've also been interested in writing stories since I was a little kid, but it wasn't until high school that I actually tried drawing some comics. After a few attempts at huge epic sci-fi and crime storylines, I graduated high school and began to work on much smaller stories (like little ten-pagers about cosmonauts and cossacks) while at college. 'Jan's Atomic Heart' came from one of those little experiment comics and kind of evolved into a story from there."
Roy is also working with Turkish illustrator Nemo Ramjet on a project that involves dinosaurs in an alternate Cenozoic age, though he cautiously guards details of that comic book. And, as a current student at Alberta College of Art and Design, Roy said that when he's not doing comics, he's "working on the schoolwork I'm supposed to be doing in the first place.
"No rest for the wicked, man."
"Jan's Atomic Heart" is solicited in April's Previews for a June release from New Reliable Press.